I have only one Lord, but many spiritual heroes. Here are seven of mine.
1) Pastor Charles Spurgeon, who even as a twenty year old spoke with an incredible depth and biblical insight and whose sermons and writings, full of grace and truth (and unsurpassed eloquence), always draw me to Christ. He led his church in building seventeen homes to help care for elderly women, and a large school for hundreds of children. Spurgeon and his church built homes for orphans in London, rescuing them from starvation and vice on the streets.
2) Olympic champion and missionary to China Eric Liddell (Chariots of Fire), whose "rest of the story" was told to me by a woman in England, Margaret Holder, who was a teenager in the Japanese internment camp in China, where Liddell refused to leave the children behind, and ended up dying of a brain tumor in the camp. She spoke of how Liddell kept up the children's morale and held the camp together by his devotion to Christ and his care for the children, who after Liddell's death were dramatically rescued by American paratroopers.
3) Keith Green, whose songs resonated with my soul more than anyone's. I can still hear him pounding on that piano and singing "There is a Redeemer." (Thank you oh my Father, for giving us Your Son, And leaving Your Spirit, till the work on Earth is done.) I remember where I was in 1982, at our church office, where I was a pastor, when I heard that his plane had crashed. Keith was 28 years old, the same age as Nanci and I were. I loved his passion for Christ, and I still listen to his music on my iPod.
4) Francis Schaeffer, intellectual and Christ-lover, who responded with a wonderful hand written letter to me after I wrote to him as a college student, telling him how God had shaped me through his books. I loved them all, but my all-time favorite was He Is There and He Is Not Silent. Schaeffer awakened me to the importance of the prolife issue.
5) C. S. Lewis, who not only wrote books that have touched me to the core, but in a spirit of humility and kindness answered letters from those who had nothing to offer him. He gave away the majority of his royalties to the needy. Nanci and I have been to Oxford three times, visiting Lewis's college, chapel, rooms, his house the Kilns, his favorite pubs. We stayed in the hotel where he met Joy Davidman in the dining room, as depicted in the movie Shadowlands, where he was played by Anthony Hopkins. We walked the path, Addison's Walk, where he was helped to come to faith in a conversation with two friends, one of them J. R. R. Tolkien. He died the same day as John F. Kennedy, when I was in third grade, and I didn't know of him until I picked up The Problem of Pain as a new Christian in 1969. Reading Lewis, his fiction or nonfiction, is to me always reading an old friend. In my books, I cite Lewis far more than anyone else besides Scripture. He's even a character in my novel Dominion.
6) Joni Eareckson Tada, who is one well known Christian whose life resonates with Christ's joy and depth and honesty and compassion. Through adversity God has made a diamond out of her. We've made an appointment to run together in a meadow on the New Earth. I'm sure she'll have to slow down to let me catch her. Nanci and I love Joni. We have great memories of an evening spent with her and Ken in their home.
7) John Perkins, tortured and humiliated in a Mississippi jailhouse, for the crime of being black, who rose above the hatred to become the Voice of Calvary. I have never seen greater love coming out of a man. Except for the grace of Jesus, there is no explanation for such a life.
I first met John when we spoke at a conference together in Minnesota in 1987. I talked with him last summer at the booksellers convention in Orlando. When researching my novel Dominion, I walked with him through Jackson, Mississippi. I was with him when he bought a hat in one of their ministry thrift stores for a quarter. They wanted to give it to him, since he founded the whole ministry, but he insisted on paying.
John was my spiritual inspiration for the character Obadiah Abernathy in Dominion. My sports inspiration for the same character was Buck O'Neil of baseball's old Negro Leagues.
They have a daily newspaper at the booksellers convention, and one day it had this picture of me talking with John. So I asked for a copy of it. Brings tears to my eyes. What a guy. It's an honor to know him.
Well, these are some of the many people whose writings and lives have shaped mine, and to whom I will repeatedly say "Thank you" in the ages to come (always thanking Christ, the Source of all joys, for them). What a pleasure to know I will live forever with the Lord I worship and the people, His servants, I admire.
Likely many of those I will come to admire most, and ask to sit next to at dinner, are ones whose stories I don't even know yet. I can't wait to meet them!